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Feb 10, 2009 06:10 AM

Nontraditional vs. purists

I am a chowhound that just does not understand my purist friends that post on these boards. While I value the traditional way certain dishes have always been prepared I do not think there is anything wrong with trying a new method. Two things come to mind. It seems anytime someone mentions beans in chili or mayo in guacamole someone will invariably post a note that takes an indignant tone because that is not how these two dishes should be made. Come on, it is all a matter of taste. Personally I am a born and bred Texan and I can't stand chili without beans and I always add a little mayo to my guac. Is there something I just do not get?

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  1. There is nothing to get . . . you like what you like and I like what I like. You mentioned two things I really don't like. After growing up eating chili with bean, once I had it without them, I found out that I really liked chili a lot! Of course when my mom made it not only did we have bean in it, but we crushed either saltines or oyster crackers in it, as well. I don't do that anymore either. My chili recipe does not have beans. But if you want them, you can have them on the side and add them.

    Guacamole, to me, should just be mashed avocado, some lemon or lime juice, slat, a touch of garlic and that's it. Why? Because I love the flavor of the avocado too much to dilute it with other condiments. Same with my steaks. Please do not smother mine in a sauce, mushrooms, or offer me Heinz 57. If I have to add something to cover the taste of the beef, well it must not be that good. A bit of au jus, or maybe some marinade is okay as long as it compliments, not covers up the taste of the meat. But now give me a baked potato and anything goes. I will put all types of things on it. Same with pasta, bean soup, salads, and ham, chicken and tuna salads. Some things are meant to experiment with, others, not so much. Just my opinion.

    1 Reply
    1. re: danhole

      I agree with the second paragraph totally. I like beans in Chili though! :D

    2. I'm one of those people who often gets into such discussions, but I'm more of a language purist than a food purist. If you want to make a change that alters the essential character of a dish, and the result still tastes good, that's fine - just don't call it by the same name. Examples that have ticked me off include someone who makes "panna cotta" without using cream, or throws a chicken into a crock pot with some white beans and calls it "cassoulet." The former might be a tasty low-fat custard, and the latter a delicious chicken stew, but they are absolutely not panna cotta or cassoulet, and it's language abuse to say that they are.

      13 Replies
      1. re: BobB

        Bob has a good point there. Here's my $0.2:

        I'd argue that if a recipe is globally recognised, there must be something going for it right? Say guacamole. So I'd say change it and tweak it the way you like it, but it may be far from the original - and you'd have to have tried the original to know that.

        1. re: Soop

          Thats, uh, 20 cents, ahem.

          Sorry to nitpick.

          1. re: Cebca

            And in these economic times; goodness.

        2. re: BobB

          well said.

          by the way, i'm of the ilk that supports calling california champagne exactly that, but mostly because it tastes very different from all french champagnes i've tried. if they really were made in the same style, by all means, call it champagne (but label it from california).

          1. re: cimui

            Sort of like Chicago style pizza vs NY style pizza or CA pizza, I agree.

            1. re: cimui

              It shouldn't be called champagne at all - Champagne is a region in Northern France. It should be proudly named after its own region of origin, such as Napa for example. It can of course be described as champagne method if it is.

            2. re: BobB

              Couldn't be more accurate, BobB. Well written. Do whatever you like with food but call things what they actually are.

              1. re: ccbweb

                Ditto on that one. Here is FL, we have a NY pizza place claiming NY pizza. Well according to NY ers ... it isn't. But it is the pizza their parents always got and called it NY pizza.

                Just enjoy the food you like, who cares where it originated from or if it is original in ingredients if it is good that should be all that matters to you and your friends who enjoy it.

                1. re: kchurchill5

                  Reminds me of driving through New Jersey back around 1971. I saw a place offering "Boston Style Pizza." Being a native Bostonian, I had to stop in and ask them about it - turns out it was pizza made with cheddar instead of mozzarella. I explained to them that I was from Boston and that we did not in fact make pizza with cheddar.* They explained to me very colorfully exactly how much they cared.

                  (*Curiously, a decade or so later there was in fact a short-lived Boston-area chain called Cheddar's that specialized in cheddar cheese pizza, but it hadn't been invented when this conversation took place.)

              2. re: BobB

                BobB, I agree with you about "language abuse," but at what point does it become food abuse? When do we completely lose the original dish?

                I almost hate to bring it up, but do you remember the long and testy thread on CH about bruschetta some time ago? The esteemed item went from grilled bread to a reviled TV Triscuits commercial that implied that the *topping* on the Triscuit was the bruschetta.
                From the discussion, we learned that there are jars of tomato based concoctions being sold as "bruschetta" and fast food outlets offering "bruschetta chicken."
                The food item itself has lost its original meaning to large numbers of the public who seem to think that bruschetta is the tomato stuff.

                The same is likely true of "pulled pork." A simple descriptive term for a pork shoulder cooked in a specific way in the Carolinas.
                You can do a somewhat successful imitation on a home grill or even in an oven, but now people are routinely doing it in crock pots which is a completely different matter altogether as the meat is essentially steamed.
                That wet pork dish may be the only way that many people have ever eaten "pulled pork" so is that their standard? If they were to be served the real thing, would they find it lacking by comparison? Perhaps "inauthentic"? Not as good?
                But how can you not call the crock pot pork "pulled pork"? It's pork and you pulled it apart, didn't you?

                1. re: MakingSense

                  Food abuse takes place when the thing being substituted is not only no longer what the name would imply but is also simply bad food, like cheap jarred salsa on a Triscuit, or the infinite abominations sold under the name "pizza."

                  "When do we completely lose the original dish?"

                  As long as Chowhound is around, NEVER! We are here to fight the good fight. That's why I always forge into such discussions with my purist banner held high.

                  1. re: BobB

                    Soooo, there you are, Brave BobB, on the LEFT side of my computer screen.
                    And on the RIGHT side?
                    The CHOW recipe writers doing their best to come up with "new takes" on classic recipes and destroying everything in their path.
                    Just while I read this post, there is "New Orleans King Cake for Mardi Gras" which looks NOTHING like anything in that fine city and NONE of the comments were a bit happy with it either! The King Cake Baby looks like it got caught in a ditch cave-in and there's no colored sugar. Disaster. Why does CHOW do this?
                    Then of course, the dreaded "crustless" quiche, which at least they sort of refer to as a "Frittata Lorraine."

                    I fear that the number of participants in Chowhound is statistically too small to turn back the tide. Even on CH, the numbers of people who have adopted new food terminology from TV cooks, odd restaurant descriptions,marketing programs, and simple lack of knowledge is sometimes surprising.
                    Most people don't even own dictionaries any longer and are willing to trust whatever they get from Google as a valid source of information.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      Carpe Chowdom! Excelsior! Give no quarter! Give me pure food or give me none!
                      Chowhounds of the world unite! Down with "lite", up with slow cooking. Ersatz is a bouillabaisse bourgeois bullshit! No more newness is goodness bigness is better!

              3. I'm not a purist. I've said before - I think they miss all the fun!

                However I'm in agreement with both Bob and Danhole that if a dish is a vast departure from the time-tested original than call it something else, and if you like it one way and I like it another isn't it great that we're both satisfied?!


                2 Replies
                1. re: Phoo_d

                  I often tweak recipes out of cookbooks, so when I serve them I'll say it's based on a pepper steak recipe. Then when I re-write the recipe I name it "Dani's pepper steak", or something along those lines. When I pass the recipe along I sure don't want someone to think my version is authentic, cuz it ain't!

                  1. Nothing wrong with tweaking or even wholesale changing a recipe to make it how you want (or think you want) it to taste. But many traditional recipes got that way because they tasted pretty good already - that is, something that's been around for a long time has survived for a reason. I like to experience a traditional dish the way it's 'meant' to be, and then experiment afterwards if necessary; but I like to know where the dish is starting from.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bat Guano

                      I usually have to tweak because my DH is so very picky that if a dish has certain ingredients in it he will not touch it. If I want to taste it as it should be, I have to go get it elsewhere. Then figure out how I can make it so he will actually eat it! Sad, but true.

                    2. Yep, you're missing the link that food has to history and culture.
                      There's nothing at all wrong with anybody changing any dish that they serve to suit their own tastes but they should recognize that they have CHANGED it. Depending on the degree to which they change it, it loses its character and its connection to its roots.

                      The current trend toward local, regional, and seasonal foods should make this easy to understand because ALL foods were once local, regional, and seasonal before preservation and shipping are what they are today. You cooked what was there when it was available.
                      That meant that there was a REASON why certain ingredients were included or not included in dishes.

                      Key Lime Pie was made with condensed milk in the Florida Keys because there was little fresh dairy. Including cream cheese is a no-no and chocolate is really over the edge. Those two things make a nice dessert but that ain't a Key Lime pie.
                      Andouille sausage is not a Carolina Low Country foodstuff nor are mushrooms, yet they seem to appear in many recipes for Shrimp and Grits. Why? They're good and people like them. Go ahead and use them but recognize that your dish is not in any way traditional.
                      I'm from Louisiana and want to cry sometimes when I hear what people do to Creole and Cajun food. I absolutely keep those home fires burning, cooking like my grandmothers did. That being said, if you like "your" gumbo, enjoy it! Please don't make pronouncements about gumbo when you've been to New Orleans once.

                      Food has a story to tell.
                      We constantly hear people bemoan the lack of an "American cuisine." We have one. True heritage foods that arose from our local, regional, and seasonal foods, prepared by our ancestors across the US as they settled the original colonies and expanded Westward across the Plains and to the Pacific.
                      Chucking Hellman's into the guacamole is fine but we lose the links that we have to the settlers who shared that heritage with Mexican and Spanish settlers in the Southwest, and at some point that history disappears. A friend of mine from one of those old families calls avocados "the mayonnaise of the poor" and uses it as a sandwich spread, preferring it to mayo; it was her child's first solid food.
                      We serve the beans on the side when we have chili at our house. Always considered the plain Bowl of Red a little "one note" and thought it needed some other stuff on the table. If anybody mixes them in, I don't get upset. But the chili itself is straight up - like on some long-ago cattle drive, hand-cut meat, red with chilis and nothing more.

                      So call me a dreamer. I would love to see the result of the interest in local, regional, and seasonal food being a return to interest in the classics. People learning to use the basics to their glory. Using the very best available and highlighting the intrinsic fresh flavors of the seasons with technique and joy, rather than "doctoring" them up with mayo or other condiments.
                      As Michael Pollan suggested, "Eat like your grandmother ate." Or even your great, great, great, great....

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: MakingSense

                        You do make sense. Well done!
                        Guilty as charged. I think my food desires are a form of regionalism. I've lived a long time in the southwest w/ Hispanic in-laws. I now live in New England. What is called chili up here bears little resemblance to what my old farming family in-laws made for generations in New Mexico. The same w/ guacamole; call it green sauce and I don't care what goes in it. Funny, it's even hard to find traditional New England style clam chowder in New England. My Russian immigrant grandparents made and my childhood church continues to make traditional Russian kobasi. (sausages). The store bought bear little resemblance; a lack of knowledge of the tradition? When I do a stir fry, I don't call it Chinese something or other, I don't have the knowledge; but simply an Asian style stir fry.
                        I think when someone plays with a traditional, regional food and has no knowledge of that region, but calls the food by the original name it thereby becomes foreign to that region and no longer is identifiable by the same name.
                        There will be now agreement here. Maybe travel is the answer. Go to the homeland of the food and learn to make it there first; then play with it.
                        Boy are we a principled lot.
                        Is ketchup ok on hot dogs? Remember?

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          A friend just gave me a cookbook from the '30s that's a compendium of regional American cuisines. Really fascinating. It shows how people handled regional ingredients before mass distribution and before convenience foods started taking over in the '50s. Some of the recipes that are presented very matter of factly would seem very "daring" today, like game recipes.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            I've heard it posited that the greatest single change in American food came with WWII.
                            For the first time, millions of Americans were away from home and the foods they had grown up with, i.e. regional foods. American wasn't the transient country that it is now.

                            Millions of American men were drafted into or joined the military and ate in military mess halls. At the end of WWII , there were 13 million in uniform and there had been hundreds of thousands of deaths and casualties. That was about 10% of the total US population.
                            Others had moved to cities and towns near military bases or war production plants far from their homes to aid the war effort.

                            The food in military mess halls was "mid-Western American." No regional specialties. I remember my father telling us how much hated breakfast with no grits, never having gumbo or any of the good Cajun and Creole foods that he loved from his Louisiana home.

                            Of course, tastes changed as well, and soldiers learned that there were other good foods out there and they took the new ideas home with them.
                            Homogenization of American tastes might well have begun in WWII - not with convenience foods of the 50s, that perhaps only made it easier to find those "general mid-Western American" flavors that hey had been introduced to.
                            The guys LIKED that food more than they let on.

                            1. re: MakingSense

                              I read somewhere once that US consumption of oregano tripled after WWII due to the increase in pizza consumption.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                Another factor of the homogenization of American food in the post-war period was the rise of the suburb and the supermarket. Instead of shopping at small independent markets that sourced their foods locally based on local "foodways" people started moving out of their home towns and city neighborhoods (many of them ethnic) into suburbs where they shopped at chain markets that carried a much more generic product mix, chosen at company HQ and purchased and distributed through mass distribution channels.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Directly related to the GI Bill which allowed returning servicemen to buy houses with no money down. This led to the rapid building of suburbs, the building of roads, and then small shopping centers to serve those suburbs.
                                  Many families retained the houses that they owned in the cities and converted them to rentals, which led in turn to the decline of inner cities in many cases.

                                  The next big "advance" was the interstate highway system begun during the Eisenhower Administration which made food distribution over long distances even easier.

                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                    What annoys me is that when I hear discussions about the problems of buying fresh foods in poor inner city neighborhoods, the issue is almost always framed as a lack of supermarkets. Supermarkets are not the be all and end all of grocery shopping, and are actually quite poorly suited to the needs of urbanites. Supermarkets are best for people who can take their car to the market and load up with a week's worth of groceries. For people who don't have cars and who don't have homes with storage areas for large amounts of groceries, having smaller but more numerous stores, including specialty stores like bakeries and delis -- which still remains the norm in many big cities -- is really a better option.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Can't say I agree with you. I'm an urbanite, and can easily go a week or more without getting in my car. I hit the supermarket pretty much daily and buy no more than I can carry. At the one I frequent most, it seems pretty clear that the majority of customers are doing the same thing. Just because a store is big doesn't mean you need to buy lots of stuff at once.

                                      Delis and bakeries are fine for what they specialize in - couldn't live without 'em - but there are practically no small stores left selling good fresh produce, except for some ethnic ones that carry a very limited selection. So for produce I visit the farmers' markets in season, and the rest of the year (more than six months, here in the northeast) I rely on supermarkets, and am lucky enough to have three, including a Whole Foods, within walking distance of my house. But of course, I'm in an affluent urban area. Lack of supermarkets is a legitimate issue in poor neighborhoods.

                                      1. re: BobB

                                        I think it comes down to supply and demand. When I was in Japan, I ate very little fruit because one piece typically cost at least $1.50 upwards. I also found that I spent much more than I spend in the US shopping on a daily basis, but I was lucky enough to afford it. For most lower income families, there's no option to replace food that goes bad, so instead they choose frozen/canned food that will last until they're able to eat it.